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Issue #1668      December 10, 2014

Culture & Life

A concept that continues to live

Looking through Gleebooks Summer Reading Guide, distributed with The Sydney Morning Herald, I noticed that the new Summer releases from Penguin Pocket Classics include The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (It’s priced at $16.99 from Gleebooks in a handsome hard-backed edition designed by graphic designer Coralie Bickford-Smith and is being touted as a “great Christmas gift”, but if you just want the Manifesto without the fancy wrappings, the CPA will sell that to you for $5 plus postage or the PDF can be viewed or downloaded here.) In the Summer Reading Guide it’s lumped in with other “classics” by such Woody Allen favourites as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Freud (not to mention Marcus Aurelius and Machiavelli), but the significant point is that only Marx and Engel’s work has been subjected to a deliberate effort to erase its content from human consciousness.

From the moment it appeared, before the middle of the 19th century, The Communist Manifesto has been subjected to unprecedented denunciations, bans, wholesale book burnings and criminalisation, as well as a never-ending campaign of vilification, distortion and misrepresentation. Some of the worst misrepresentation came from people who were galvanised by its revolutionary message but could not be bothered (or did not want) to comprehend the elaboration of the authors’ ideas in their other writings.

One who did comprehend all of what they were saying was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Marx’s greatest follower and the most profound elaborator of his ideas. Despite a century and a half of being largely ignored by the capitalist mass media, which normally only mentions Marxist classics in order to sneer at them or to lie about them, the concept of an alternative type of society and the revolutionary means of achieving it that Marx and Engels advanced still grips the minds of millions of people.

It underlies the anti-imperialist struggle all over the world, and motivates the leading political forces in much of South and Central America, southern Africa and Asia. No wonder Gleebooks can recommend it as a Christmas gift.

Philip Pullman’s ingenious and very anti-organised-religion fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is an excellent read which ends with the people of Earth going to war with Heaven! The movie adaptation never advanced to the second of the intended three films due to opposition from reactionary Christian groups in the US. Pullman’s latest book, The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ, a retelling of the life of Jesus, has been remaindered by Gleebooks from $32.95 down to $13.95. No doubt, fundamentalist Christian sects in the US are patting themselves on the back for having dealt a blow to the “Godless Anti-Christ”, but Pullman is a clever, thoughtful and serious writer who deserves better.

Malcolm Fraser was always the spokesman for Australian manufacturing and rural capital. He helped carry out the coup against Whitlam on behalf of US intelligence agencies and the State Department, but since leaving office has become increasingly outspoken in his criticism of US aggression which he sees as benefiting them not us.

Unlike Tony Abbott, he sees no benefit to Australian business from blindly following US war plans. His latest book, Dangerous Allies, published by Melbourne University Press examines the Australian ruling class’ preferred foreign policy position of relying on an imperialist power to provide our defence, previously Britain and nowadays the USA. Fraser, who knows first-hand how the US operates, thinks we should abandon the policy that is the cornerstone of both the Liberal and Labor parties, the “US alliance”. Just one more reason why top Libs really don’t like Fraser any more.

However, with Tony Abbott outrageously singing the praises of fossil fuels before the whole world, and causing even the right-wing entourages of both the British PM and the US President to view him as an ignorant hillbilly and to take steps to distance themselves from him, the divisions within capitalism are all too evident. What to do to halt the greenhouse effect and consequent global warming is the catalyst for much of this division. Another book in the Gleebooks Guide illustrates this: Six Capitals by Jane Gleeson-White, subtitled The Revolution Capitalism Has To Have, shows that she is certainly no follower of Marx.

But even a supporter of capitalism like Gleeson-White has come to the conclusion that the focus of corporations has to move away from “profit maximisation and towards becoming accountable for their impact on the natural and social environments”. That runs counter to the very essence of capitalism itself, and, like her plea for governments and corporations to acknowledge that nature is a key component of economics and business, will fall largely on deaf ears. That such notions are being voiced around at all is significant, illustrating the breadth of the crisis within capitalism.

The Great Depression of the 1930s rattled capitalism badly, but with policies borrowed in many cases from the Communists and the left-social democrats, and aided by the arms race as the world headed towards WW2, global capitalism was able to claw its way out of the abyss. The War changed its fortunes completely, but despite numerous (profitable) wars since, capitalism has continued to suffer crises, most notably the Global Financial Crisis of only a couple of years ago. The GFC has left the US economy as well as several European economies in a seriously stressed state.

What is worrying the pundits of capitalism is to what extent the ideas of Marx and Engels will find new readers, new activists, as the global economic situation declines further. They lampoon the concept of socialism and workers’ revolution, but they know Socialism works and that workers can successfully run a country without bosses. They fear the reaction of the working class as the situation declines; they fear that the workers might move to take control of the economy.

That is why reactionary governments everywhere are making laws to clamp down on democratic rights and on trade union rights in particular. They’re not aimed at “outlaw bikies” but at you and me.

Long live Marxism-Leninism! Have a good festive season and a happy, revolutionary New Year!

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